Genetic Enhancement, Social Justice, and Welfare‐Oriented Patterns of Distribution

9 Pages Posted: 14 Jun 2012

Date Written: July 2012


The debate over the host of moral issues that genetic enhancement technology (GET) raises has been significant. One argument that has been advanced to impugn its moral legitimacy is the ‘unfair advantage argument’ (UAA), which states: allowing access to GET to be determined by socio‐economic status would lead to unjust outcomes, namely, create a genetic caste system, and with it the exacerbation and perpetuation of existing socio‐economic inequalities. Fritz Allhoff has recently objected to the argument, the kernel of which is that it conflates the use of the technology with its distribution. GET, he argues, would generate unjust outcomes only if it is distributed according to principles of an unjust pattern of distribution; for if we can determine what constitutes a ‘just’ distributive scheme, then the technology can be allocated according to the principles of that scheme. In this paper I argue the following cluster of related claims: (1) both UAA and Allhoff's proposed distributive schemes ignore the importance of non‐genetic factors in the development of an individual's characteristics and capacities; (2) if we accept the view that it is good to prevent unjust outcomes that arise because some have exclusive access to GET, then we have to accept wide‐ranging distributive schemes; (3) by tracking genetic and non‐genetic factors wide‐ranging schemes do violate in some sense the widely shared value of neutrality in liberal democracies.

Keywords: genetic enhancement, social justice, patterns of distribution, socio‐economic inequalities, social goods, conceptions of a good life, liberal democratic societies

Suggested Citation

Etieyibo, Edwin E., Genetic Enhancement, Social Justice, and Welfare‐Oriented Patterns of Distribution (July 2012). Bioethics, Vol. 26, Issue 6, pp. 296-304, 2012, Available at SSRN: or

Edwin E. Etieyibo (Contact Author)

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